Virtual reality for beginners: Everything you need to know to wrap your head around VR

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If you already own a high-end gaming PC, the good news is you’re probably ready to go. The recommended specs for the Rift are as follows:

  • Nvidia GTX 970/Radeon R9 290
  • Intel i5-4590
  • 8GB of RAM

That’s actually surprisingly reasonable, considering what the Rift is doing. Most people (not necessarily you, but most) are still playing games on a 1920x1080 (a.k.a. 1080p) monitor at 60 frames per second. The Rift/Vive’s screens run at a total resolution of 2160x1200 at 90 frames per second.

And this time, the PC crowd’s obsession with framerate is actually for a very good reason: So you don’t get sick. One of the big complaints about early Rift models was motion sickness. However, this is a problem that mostly goes away when you raise the refresh rate. Oculus’s John Carmack has said he’d like to hit 120Hz in the future, but 90Hz was a baseline.

As for the Vive, we don’t know what the recommended PC specs are yet—but I’d expect them to be close (if not totally in line) with Oculus’s.

Do I even need a PC?

A quick tangent: You could go the mobile VR route. Last year Samsung and Oculus partnered to release the GearVR, which uses the Galaxy Note 4 for processing power and its display. Then they released an updated version this year for the Galaxy S6.

gear vr demo 4 Oculus VR

Samsung's GearVR, with front plate removed to reveal the Galaxy Note 4 underneath.

There are pros and cons to this approach though. The major pro is that there are no wires attached. You can spin around in a chair for hours and never get tangled. And GearVR runs quite well—better than you’d probably expect, considering it’s phone hardware.

The downside: It’s expensive. Both the Note 4 and S6 run about $600 on their own, and then you need to pay another $200 for the GearVR headset itself. And there’s no guarantee how long your particular GearVR model will stay relevant—phone hardware iterates so quickly, the device could be outdated next year (or six months down the line, even). With a computer, you can always upgrade the internals.

Okay, here’s my wallet

There’s no getting around it: Virtual reality is an expensive hobby—even more so if you’re trying to get your computer up to snuff.

The main issue is we still don’t know actual prices on a lot of this stuff. Valve and Oculus are playing the positioning game, waiting to see who flinches first. But we can maybe make some estimates based on past statements and comparable hardware.

Thus, we can expect the Rift headset to cost about $350 to 400. That’s both in line with the cost of the first two development kits and Oculus’s past spitballing. That figure would include the headset itself, an Xbox One controller, and the position-tracking sensor.

htc vive

The SteamVR-powered HTC Vive prototype uses two base stations to allow you to wander your environment physically.

Oculus Touch is a bit more difficult to pin down, but we can make an estimate based on the price of the since-discontinued Razer Hydra motion controller, which ran for $140. I’d expect Touch to come in around the same price point (or less, if Oculus hopes to sell more units and incentivize development).

So we’re up to about $500-550 for the full Rift experience, sans PC itself. The Vive is pretty similar, although you have to factor in the two Lighthouse base stations Valve uses for position tracking (instead of the Oculus’s single sensor). Let’s say $600 for the HTC Vive?

Yeah, it’s expensive. And those are just my own estimated figures—we could be looking at $700 or even $800 entry pricing on release, though the higher the price goes the fewer units will sell, and Oculus desperately needs units to sell in order to convince the public that VR is a viable field this time around.

And that doesn’t include the cost of a gaming PC, as I mentioned. For the Oculus’s recommended specs you’re probably looking at a machine in the $800-900 range (depending on whether you already have a Windows license, a monitor, et cetera).

Bottom line

oculus look up Oculus Story Studio

Even with that pricing hurdle, I’ll be damned if virtual reality isn’t exhilarating. I’ve been playing games for pretty much my entire life, and I don’t think there’s been a technology this exciting since we made the 2D/3D switch in the ‘90s. Virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize the way we play, especially as it gets more sophisticated.

And virtual reality could revolutionize not just the way we play, but the way we chat with friends, the way we experience films, the way we hold business meetings and conceptualize “the office.” Virtual reality could be the next big thing.

The question is whether everyday people—people like you and me—will be interested in trying it.

Read our entire guide and still have questions? Feel free to leave a comment or hit me on Twitter and I’d be happy to answer whatever you’re wondering.

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